Leading article: The benefits of a flexible approach to borders

Share
Related Topics

Montenegro has voted, and by the narrowest of margins this former republic of now defunct Yugoslavia has decided to make the final break. It will leave the union with Serbia, and go it alone as a separate state. The final majority will be official in two weeks' time, but already there is no going back. Montenegro, with its 670,000 inhabitants, is set to become Europe's newest state.

At once warm greetings flowed into the budding national capital, Podgorica. Even Serbia sent grudging congratulations. The erstwhile partners are now preparing negotiations on a division of assets. So far, the process has been remarkably civilised and calm. Even more remarkable has been the nonchalance, uninterest almost, with which the break-up has been countenanced elsewhere. In Europe, at least, it seems to be recognised that there are times when divorce is for the best.

Time was when the very notion that part of another country could declare itself independent, with or without a referendum, was taboo. Partly, perhaps, because of the turmoil that so many people had suffered through two world wars, national frontiers became sacrosanct. The unification of Germany broke the taboo in a big way. With the Berlin Wall demolished in such inspiring fashion, what was there to stop other borders being broken or remade? The USSR disintegrated. Czechoslovakia split in two; Slovenia turned its back on Yugoslavia and the remaining republics waged a short, but brutal, civil war as they revived their independence.

More than 15 years since the unification of Germany, Europe consists of many more countries than it did. Happiness is suddenly fashionable, but observation suggests that those people who have gained or regained their independence are happier than they were when they were in thrall, or unhappily joined, to another. They are more productive, richer, and they take seriously their responsibilities as states.

The proliferation of small states has had no significantly destabilising effect on the continent except where, as in Yugoslavia or the former Soviet Union, state and ethnic borders had been artificially drawn. Concern that a country could be too small to be viable has not been justified. Nor has the redrawing of borders turned out to be as contagious as was feared. Not all devolution movements have ended in secession; for some, greater autonomy suffices.

All this helps to explain why independence for Montenegro has been hailed more as a promise than a threat. It also poses a question that would have been unthinkable a generation ago: might it not be time to reconsider the principle that national frontiers should always be immutable? Perhaps the new map of Europe could offer a lesson for other parts of the world. How much misery is caused in parts of Africa and Asia because the borders do not match ethnic composition, or because economic and demographic shifts challenge colonial-era borders?

The risks of change must not be under-estimated. It may be that altering frontiers is possible in Europe only because there are now strong institutions and because desire for membership of the European Union acts as a restraint. But would a federal, or even separated, Iraq be more violent than it currently is? Would a Kurdish state really be the threat that adjacent countries fear? Might the earlier formation of a Palestinian state have prevented the present bloodshed? We cannot know. We do know, however, that the revision of borders over the past decade or so has not resulted in the anarchy that was widely feared. And we wonder, given the experience in Europe, whether a more flexible attitude to frontiers might not produce similar benefits elsewhere.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas